Islamic numismatics in russian turkestan


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v

ladimir



 n. n

astich


 

Institute of Oriental Studies, Department of Oriental Written Sources – Moscow

ISLAMIC NUMISMATICS 

IN RUSSIAN TURKESTAN

(IMPERIAL PERIOD, C. 1867-1917)

 

 Abstract



The following brief survey deals with the numismatic activity in Russian Tur-

kestan (later called Middle Asia) within the early colonial period from the an-

nexation in the late 1860s and till the ‘October revolution’ of 1917, reviewing 

a succession of related events and pointing at some most noticeable persona-

lities in the field, both Russian and indigenous. Particular attention is paid 

to the public state of affairs, which triggered the rise of amateur collecting of 

antiquities in the region, aimed at search, study and market trade of medieval 

artefacts, including (perhaps basically) Islamic coins, and later forming the 

solid base for the development of advanced scholarly numismatics of medieval 

and pre-modern Central Asia in the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia.

Keywords

Russian Turkestan, Islamic Numismatics, Personalities

216

ISLAMIC NUMISMATICS IN RUSSIAN TURKESTAN

As it should be clear from the title of the ensuing cursory sketch, it will deal with the 

numismatic activity of certified historians and dilettante collectors, both Russian and 

indigenous, in the area that we use to call Middle Asia (otherwise Russian Turkestan) 

since the accession to the Russian Empire in the late 1860s and till the ‘October 

revolution’ of 1917. The main emphasis hereinafter will be focused on the prominent 

personalities in the field, as well as the official measures aimed at the development of 

numismatics as a scholarly discipline in the region. Particular attention is paid to the 

public state of affairs, which triggered the rise of amateur collecting of antiquities in 

the region, aimed at search, study, and also market trade of ancient (pre-Islamic) and 

medieval (basically Islamic) coins, along with other cultural artefacts of the past. No 

less important is a clear manifestation of the ever-growing trend to closer coopera-

tion between professional numismatists and private collectors, which had a strong 

impact, later in the 20

th 


century, on the further development of native liberal arts and 

finally enabled the Islamic numismatics to play an important role in the system of 

national historical source study.

Principal events related to the Russian annexation of Middle Asia took place be-

tween 1839 and 1876, representing the manyfold combination of military activity, 

diplomatic efforts and civil colonization, and finally resulting in the establishment 

of the Turkestan General Governorship (1867) and a number of adjacent regions 

subjugated to the Russian Empire.

By then, Islamic numismatics (European in general and Russian in particular) 

had not only emerged as a cultural phenomenon but also transformed into a branch 

of scholarly research, virtually created by the prominent Professor Christian Mar-

tin Fraehn (1782–1851), actual founder and long-term director of the Asiatic Mu-

seum in St. Petersburg. His colleagues and disciples, such as Bernhard (Boris) A. 

Dorn, Vladimir V. Veliaminov-Zernov, Pavel S. Saveliev, Woldemar (Vladimir) G. 

Tiesenhausen, Vassily V. Grigoriev and many others, also contributed a lot to the 

growing perception of oriental numismatics as a first-rank historical source. So it’s 

possible to say that prior to the advent of Russians to Turkestan, a solid background 

for the mentioned activity was right at hand on the one part, and since the annexed 

area supplied a first-rank source for Islamic coin findings, no surprise that they 

became a basic stuff for the first generation of coin collectors, emerging there al-

most in line with the conquest proper. A well-known example of that was General 

A.V. Komarov who used to force his subordinate soldiers for picking up coins on 

the ancient sites of Turkmenia: «One day 100 Cossacks had collected about 1500 

coins in old Merv during two hours …». Komarov’s enormous collection, consist-

ing entirely of local findings, later became a valuable base for the study of Islamic 

numismatics of the region.



217

VLADIMIR N. NASTICH

RUSSIAN SERVICEMEN’S ACTIVITY

A number of servicemen in the Russian administration at Samarkand, Tashkent, Fer-

gana (Skobelev at that time), as well as other towns of Semirechye and elsewhere, 

were active in the field of coin collecting during the last decades of the 19

th 

century, 



such as clerks B.N. Petrov-Borzna and M.N. Rostislavov, Generals A.K. Abramov 

and A.S. Galkin, Captain L.S. Barshchevsky, Sergeant Fadeyev and others. Many 

of them reportedly had their own numismatic collections, containing lots of Islamic 

specimens and passing among the contemporaries for rich and important. In particu-

lar, Petrov-Borzna possessed 2500 items; Barshchevsky’s first collection, sold in 

1893, included up to 10.000 pieces, many of which were Islamic. At the later period, 

private collections of Boris N. Kastal’sky and Ivan T. Poslavsky, along with the or-

ganizing activity of professional orientalists, particularly Nikolay I. Veselovsky in 

St. Petersburg and Evgeny F. Kal’ (Kahl) in Tashkent, also contributed a lot to the 

material base of the numismatic history of Turkestan. On the other hand, some of-

ficers successfully combined the military and administrative service with scholarly 

research, like e.g. Captain I.I. Trofimov, who initially was not a specialist in history 

or other sciences, but acquired that skill in registering and studying the Islamic coin 

findings. The most significant works by Trofimov comprised a «Chronological Table 

of Muslim Dynasties», a Catalog of oriental coins of the Tashkent museum, and a 

comprehensive illustrated description of his own extensive coin collection, the latter 

unfortunately being left unpublished.

Along with private activity, a number of official institutions were established in 

Turkestan in those years. The most important in that number was the above-men-

tioned Turkestan People’s Museum in Tashkent (1876), now the National Museum 

of the History of Uzbekistan. Of the 270 thousand items, preserved nowadays in that 

museum, more than 100 thousand belong to the numismatic section. Later on, simi-

lar museums were opened in Samarkand (1896), Fergana and Ashkhabad (1899).

In 1870 the Turkestan Public Library was opened in Tashkent. Starting with 1700 

books only, it possessed by 1917 above 80 thousand volumes, mostly related to the 

nature, history and ethnology of the Turkestan region. In that period, a coin collec-

tion was also available in the library; later it was transferred to the Tashkent museum. 

Apropos, both those institutions, as well as the first Russian newspaper in Central 

Asia, «Turkestanskie Vedomosti», were established and maintained largely due to 

Nikolay A. Maev, a retired Major General, writer and journalist, devoted student of 

folk lore and culture in Middle Asia.

A number of scientific societies were organized in the Turkestan Kray by the 

end of the 19

th 


century, the members of which were both Russian and native people 

taking great interest in the history of the region. The most prominent of those fellow-

ships was the Turkestan Circle for the Amateurs of Archaeology, established in 1895 


218

ISLAMIC NUMISMATICS IN RUSSIAN TURKESTAN

and exercising considerable impact on the development of historical, archeological 

and ethnological studies in the region until the October revolution.

In 1910, someone named Shumilov published a list of coin dealers, including 45 

coin collectors from different towns of Central Asia. Given that the list did not contain 

even such well-known figures of the time as General I.T. Poslavsky, engineer B.N. 

Kastal’sky, archeologist and orientalist V.L. Vyatkin, artist and restorer M.V. Stol-

yarov (Svetlana Gorshenina, however, refers to many more names in similar lines), 

let alone a lot of other less prominent persons, we can state with confidence that the 

real number of persons, related to Islamic coin collecting in Russian Turkestan, was 

in fact much higher. This way or another, the mentioned list is a decisive proof of the 

well-developed numismatic activity in the region of the period under review.

NATIVE FIGURANTS

Alongside the ever-growing number of professional and amateur numismatists of 

Russian (perhaps more exact to say ‘non-local’) origin, ever more native-born folk 

students, collectors and dealers emerged in Turkestan at the same time, of which 

even the far incomplete list of names looks demonstrative enough. In that row we 

may mention such persons as Abu Tahir Khoja, Mirza Abdulla Bukhari and Mirza 

Abdurrahman from Samarkand; Muhammad Wafa, Mirza Salimbek and already said 

Mirza Abdulla from Bukhara; Akram Palwan Askarov from Tashkent; Fayaz, Haji 

Yusuf and Mirza Haji Sabirov from Khujand (otherwise Khojend or Khojent); then 

certain Yunusov, Hafiz, Haji Zargar and many others.

One of the most illustrious figures of local origin was an entrepreneur from Sa-

markand, Mirza Abdulla Bukhari. Professor N.I. Veselovsky, who had visited Sa-

markand in 1883 and became fascinated by Mirza Bukhari’s fabulous collection, 

acquired from him about 1200 antique artefacts, including 11 gold, 77 silver and 951 

copper coins. Between 1883 and 1891 Mirza Bukhari sent to St. Petersburg a selec-

tion of 6300 coins, which, according to Boris V. Lunin, later took one of the principal 

places among the Central Asian collections of the Hermitage.

The enormous collection of ancient rarities, pieces of arts and archeology was 

compiled by another merchant and factory owner Akram Palwan Askarov, born in 

the qishlaq of Asht and staying in Tashkent. The Samarkand governor Nil S. Lyko-

shin considered him «an outstanding collector of antique rarities in Turkestan», who 

was «expert in Islamic literature on the equal level with any professional orientalist». 

After the demise of Askarov in 1891, more than 12.000 copper, 1428 silver and 17 

gold coins from his collection were offered for sale to the Hermitage; the bulk of 

those gatherings was of Islamic origin and embraced the vast period from the Sama-

nids to the latest issues of Bukhara, Khoqand, Kashgar & sim.


219

VLADIMIR N. NASTICH

One more prominent collector was Mirza Haji Sabirov from Khojend, nick-

named Haji Antika for his passion towards the antique rarities and coins. He had 

crossed more than once through Middle Asia in search of antiquities and virtually 

bought them in every possible place. Professor Alexander A. Semenov wrote that 



Haji Antika, being asked where all those treasures had been from, used to answer az 

zamîn baromadagî – «found in the earth» or «originated from the earth». In 1909 he 

brought his collection to Tashkent in order to make an official exhibition; a docu-

ment has been preserved with the respective permit for «the citizen of the town 

of Khojend, Khoja Mirza Haji Sabirkhojayev», signed by the district authority and 

dated from 1 July 1909.

According to Svetlana Gorshenina, by the mid-1900’s the antikachi were ubiqui-

tous in all the cities of Turkestan. In Tashkent, antiques were sold by Talib Khodja 

Abdulmalikov (who was reportedly a coin collector himself), his brother, holding an 

«Oriental shop» in Tashkent, and someone nicknamed Sharipka, who traded in old 

arms, manuscripts, embroidery, ceramics and coins, supplied by numerous ‘agents’ 

in towns and villages. A few similar dealers were active in Samarkand and Bukhara. 

In Khojend, antiques were sold by Mir Sabir and, in Karshi, by Mulla Najmud-

din. Various coins were also the specialty of the markets in Kuliab, Kobadian and 

Termez. In aggregate, contemporary documental and narrative sources mention as 

many as several dozen names of native collectors and coin dealers in the region of 

that period.

By the beginning of the 20

th

 century, coin trade in Samarkand turned into the 



market of antiquities that was developed enough: it embraced the activity of profes-

sional coin-searchers (working both on the open market and for separate owners); 

professional dealers (organized into a vividly acting network); local producers of 

coin forgeries (imitations) and suppliers of the most wanted samples and copies.

NO TOMORROW WITHOUT YESTERDAY…

Academician Mikhail E. Masson (1897-1986), whose scholarly activity had started 

in the first quarter of the 20

th 


century, and especially his standard course of lectures 

on numismatics given at the Middle Asian (later Tashkent) State University during 

many years, virtually served as a bridge between the two great epochs and laid the 

solid foundation for professional Central Asian numismatics of the Soviet period; 

it’s enough to say that most of the prominent scholars flourishing in the field until re-

cently, be it in Uzbekistan, Russia or abroad, were in one way or another his progeny.

Appositely saying, it was quite a bit of time ago that the official scholarly doctrine 

treated numismatics as a secondary source of incidental information and obstinately 

kept it for the «auxiliary historical discipline» (hence its fatal underestimation and 


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ISLAMIC NUMISMATICS IN RUSSIAN TURKESTAN

permanent underfunding throughout the Soviet period), while in fact – and espe-

cially within the ‘Islamic’ branch – it was consistently proving the opposite, provid-

ing more than once the positive information comparable in amount and quality with 

any other historical source. Professor Elena A. Davidovich (1922-2013), perhaps 

the most renowned disciple of M.E. Masson, wrote based on her long-term research 

experience: «It shall not be an exaggeration to say that the subject entitled ‘History 



of Money Circulation in Medieval Middle Asia’ was only put on the agenda along 

with the awareness of the opportunity to rely upon the coins as a basic, in many 

instances even unique source». Needless to say that none of the current advance 

could be observed nowadays in the branch of activity under review, had it not been 

steadily developing in the 19

th

 and early 20



th

 century. According to Davidovich’s 

expert opinion, numismatics must have the full right to be placed in the classifica-

tion line alongside archeology and ethnography, thus getting attested as a full-length 

basic and substantive historical science. Another intrinsic feature, leading its origin 

also from the ‘colonial’ times, is the equitable, if not to say fraternal character of 

multilateral ties and collaboration between aboriginal and Russian professionals and 

amateurs in history, archeology and particularly numismatics.



221

VLADIMIR N. NASTICH

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(A SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY)

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ISLAMIC NUMISMATICS IN RUSSIAN TURKESTAN

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